OK, we get it: You didn't go to beauty school to spend hours every week updating a website or writing blog posts or building email campaigns. But here's the thing: If you want to have to have a successful career in this highly competitive industry, you must learn the basics of beauty salon digital marketing.
Don't worry—we've got your back. This article will provide a solid overview of what digital marketing is and the initiatives you should seriously consider implementing as part of your overall business strategy. Plus, we'll share insights and input from real salon owners who are rocking their digital marketing.
Let's get to it.
What is digital marketing, anyway?
Digital marketing encompasses all the online initiatives people use to promote their business. Think things like:
- Website marketing (including search engine optimization and blogging)
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Text marketing (also known as SMS marketing)
- Online advertising (Google AdWords, FB ads, etc.)
- Reputation management (Yelp, Google reviews)
Basically, if the marketing initiative happens online and the goal of the initiative is to promote your business, then it qualifies as digital marketing.
That sounds like a lot. Do I need to do all of those things?
Nope! We'd argue all salons should maintain a website and at least one image-based social media platform like Instagram. And you should always be asking for and monitoring your online reviews. But the rest is up to you and will depend on your goals, your budget, and your bandwidth.
For example, if you've opened a second salon and you're trying to grow the customer base, you might invest in paid online advertising to 1) boost exposure and name recognition and 2) bring in new clients. Or maybe your salon skews younger for whatever reason. Text-based marketing might make a lot of sense for your target audience.
Angi Snodgrass is the owner of Cass and Company Salon in Avon, Indiana. She uses a variety of digital marketing methods to promote her salon, including her website, social media posts, emails, texts, and Google ads.
Angi says, "Emails are captured with every client when scheduling so we can always stay in contact with them for updates and promos. We typically post photos of stylists' work daily or multiple times per week. We text or email clients special product offers once a month or so, but generally post on social media consistently."
Again, your mileage will vary. The challenge is figuring out a mix of marketing initiatives that work for you and your salon. Don’t be afraid to try different things when you’re first getting started with digital marketing.
OK, so discuss the first "must-have" digital marketing element: a beauty salon website.
Twenty years ago, you might have been able to get away with not having a website. But today's customers expect businesses to have one. It’s your virtual storefront, after all.
That said, a website isn't something you should have simply to meet other people's expectations. When built right, your beauty salon website can be an excellent marketing tool—one that brings in new clients.
The concept of "built right" can mean a variety of things, from the look and feel, to how fast the site loads, to the words you use on the page. The words are critical. Google uses them to determine whether it should serve up your website to someone who's doing a relevant search on their phone, tablet, or desktop.
Think about how you search for service providers on places like Google. People do the same for salons, often getting super specific in their search queries.
Here are some examples of real phrases that people are searching on, including how often people search on the phrase each month. Note: all the phrases below don’t have a lot of competition.
- Hair braiding salons near me – 14,800 times per month (not a typo!)
- Half up half down dos for prom - 32 times per month
- Bridal party manicure pedicure – 10 times per month
Now, let's say your salon specializes in hair braiding. If you have a well-written page on your site dedicated to that topic, that particular web page has a good chance of coming up in the search results when someone searches on “hair braiding salons near me.” (Google is adept at geo-targeting, meaning it would only serve up your site to people who are actually in the vicinity of your salon.)
If someone lands on that page about hair braiding and makes an appointment with you based on what they read, well . . . that's the power of website marketing. The process of finding the right keywords that people are searching on and building your website around these words is all part of what’s called "search engine optimization" or SEO.
Taking the time to build a site that's optimized for search engines can be a smart marketing strategy. But even if your site serves mostly as an online brochure, you should still have one—and you should keep it updated.
As for how to optimize your site, you can learn on your own or outsource the work—or do some combination. If you DIY, check out The Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2021 from HubSpot. (It's free.) When it comes to keyword research tools, popular ones include SEMRush, BuzzSumo, and Keyword Tool. If you outsource the work, make sure you choose a web developer and/or website copywriter with SEO experience.
A friend told me that my website should have a blog. Should it?
Again, it comes back to your goals. For many businesses, blogging can be a smart digital marketing strategy, particularly when trying to reach people in what's known as the top of the sales funnel. People in the top of the sales funnel are just starting to research a product, service, or particular industry/business. And blogs can be a great way to reach those folks.
In fact, HubSpot reports that "Blogs are among the primary three forms of media used in content strategies today." But just because everyone is seemingly blogging, that doesn't mean you need to.
Going back to some of the keyword phrases we listed above . . . if you did a blog post on "tips and tricks for half up, half down dos for proms," you might capture targeted organic website traffic over time. The question becomes, how much of that traffic will convert into paying clients?
Of course, even if you don't convert the website visitors into immediate customers on the spot, you might be able to get them to do other things, like follow you on social media (where you can continue to engage with them) or sign up for your email newsletter. Over time, you might convert some of these people into paying customers through these other marketing channels. This is why smart marketers refer to blogging as a marathon not a sprint.
Bottom line: Don’t blog simply because someone told you to.
Maintaining a blog that achieves your goals will involve:
- Knowing what your goals are in the first place. Blogs are a good place to focus on capturing traffic on some of those longer keyword phrases that are related to your business and that people are searching on.
- Doing keyword research so you can target relevant phrases with low to medium competition.
- Creating an editorial blog calendar to keep you and your team focused.
- Figuring out who's going to write the content—you, a staff member, a professional writer, or a combination of all of the above. While a professional writer is an expense, it also costs money if you're spending 20 hours a month writing blog posts.
- Analyzing results over time. Are the blogs bringing in traffic? Is the traffic converting in the ways you had intended?
Now, let’s discuss the second "must-have" digital marketing element: an image-based social media account.
Our industry is highly visual. You already know that. A beauty professional's talent is captured in pictures, and image-centric social media platforms, like Instagram, give you an easy way to share those gorgeous shots with the world.
But beyond being merely a place to showcase pics, social media platforms can bring in business. These stats reported by Oberlo note that people spend nearly 2.5 hours per day on social media and that over fifty percent turn to social media to research products and services before buying.
According to Facebook Business, people also take specific actions after seeing a product or service on Instagram:
- 65% visited the brand's website or app
- 46% made a purchase online or offline
- 29% talked to someone about it
Bottom line: Social media marketing is critical to beauty salons.
Sedric Bradsher is the manager of SmartStyle Hair Salon in Wilmington, North Carolina. He says social media is one of the main digital marketing methods that he uses to promote his salon.
"I find Facebook and Instagram are good platforms to showcase my work and my team's work so clients and prospective guests can see the wonderful work we're doing every day," he says. "I've used YouTube to easily share service techniques and product results with my team and my sister salons."
Instagram and Facebook tend to be the most popular social media platforms among beauty professionals. But don't underestimate other image-focused platforms, like Pinterest, or relatively new kids on the block, like TikTok. And take advantage of ways to minimize the amount of work you have to do by using tools that let you schedule and/or automatically post across platforms.
Colbi Rease Marks, owner of Hello Sunshine Salon and Spa in Georgetown, Georgia, does this. "I personally don't do much on Facebook, but I make sure that I have my other platforms set to automatically post there. Instagram is my go-to for all posts and stories, [but] I will use Tik Tok as well for filming videos."
And, of course, pay attention to whatever social platform launches tomorrow or three years from now since social media trends change and there's always something that's poised to take off.
Why would anyone consider email marketing today? Isn't that so last century?
The death of email has been greatly exaggerated, and we have smartphones to thank for that. Since we're all attached to our phones, we're all attached to our email, which is why email remains an effective way to communicate, especially with current customers.
And yes, email marketing does work. As HubSpot reports, "Email generates $42 for every $1 spent, which is an astounding 4,200% ROI, making it one of the most effective options available."
The key to effective email communication is value. Don't email simply to email. (That's called spam!) Instead, make sure you're sending valuable content that people want to get. (Make sure you follow all CAN-SPAM laws and regulations as well—particularly when it comes to making it easy for people to unsubscribe.)
Sedric Bradsher from SmartStyle Hair Salon says, "Email marketing is a quick and easy way for me to reach out to my clientele and keep them up to date on our promotions and things we are doing within our community."
As for getting buy-in from customers, Sedric says transparency is key. “I explained to my clients that providing their email address is the best way to ensure that our salon can reach them with news and money-saving offers.”
If you decide to go this route, what email marketing software should you use?
HubSpot has an article called "The Best Free Email Marketing Software: An Honest Roundup." And it is an honest roundup, for the most part (HubSpot did include itself on the list.) You'll find many good options, including MailChimp and Constant Contact. (Beware of contact limits. It’s easy to go from a free package to a paid package once you go over a certain number of email addresses.)
When it comes to email marketing, here are some best practices:
- Make it easy for people to sign up. Add a sign-up box on your website (that appears on every page—the footer is a good place for this).
- Make sure it's super simple for people to unsubscribe. Seriously, don't make it hard, and don't take it personally when people unsubscribe from your list.
- Audit the sign-up process a few times a year. Technology breaks. A couple times a year, go through the process of signing up (or have a friend sign up) and see if everything works as it should.
- Customize whatever you can customize. Think welcome emails, thank-you messages that appear after sign-up, and the like. The goal is to reinforce your brand.
- Always make sure you capture clients' email addresses. Make sure your receptionist gets into this habit and/or you use appointment software to capture emails.
- Practice good list "hygiene." This means getting in the habit of removing dead emails, bounced emails, and any emails that have gone unopened after several sends. It's much better to have a smaller list of engaged contacts than a bloated list of broken emails. (And a big list with lots of bad addresses can actually affect your ability to send. Read all about graymail here.)
- Send valuable content. Promotions, news (like a new stylist joining the team), change in hours, or something fun and inspiring (10 Fun Up-Dos for Summer) all work. (You can even get fancy and segment your email lists based on gender, interests, and so forth and develop content accordingly.)
Text-based marketing sounds like a good idea. But I'm not sure how to do it.
Text marketing—also known as SMS marketing—can indeed be a smart strategy when done thoughtfully. We don't recommend "cold" texting, but texting existing clients can be a great way to connect.
Text message open rates tend to be ridiculously high—think upwards of 98%. They tend to get faster responses as well. (All this according to OptinMonster.) This is why texts can be an excellent way to streamline communications with current clients. Think things like appointment confirmations and reminders—or last-minute openings.
Adisa Sator is a master esthetician and owner of Serendipity Spa. She uses text messaging to great effect. "We use SalonClouds, a texting service. It’s used to engage with members for promotions, last-minute cancellations, or reminders [for when] it’s time for their next appointment."
For example, Adisa says she might send a text with a message about a last-minute cancellation so she can fill the spot. She also uses standard emailing every couple of weeks with some type of promotion.
When developing the content for the messages in the texts or emails, she always tries to match the messaging to her customers' needs. "If we are booking up, we reach out to warn them so they know they are valued and thought of." This helps avoid her clients being disappointed they couldn't get an appointment with their favorite esthetician or therapist—and it avoids the very real possibility that they might go somewhere else as a result.
If you use online booking software, it might offer SMS marketing capabilities either as a baked-in feature or as an add-on for an additional fee. Or you can browse this list of SMS marketing tools for ideas.
What about online advertising? Do pay-per-click (PPC) ads work? Can I do PPC on my own?
You certainly can set up and run PPC ads on your own. The question, like everything else, is whether you should. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was a lot easier for novices to play happily in the PPC sandbox. It's much more complex now.
If you want to take the DIY approach, definitely take some time to educate yourself before diving in and potentially wasting time and money. Google has a bunch of Ads Certifications that it offers. HubSpot has a good (free!) course called The Basics & Fundamentals of Paid Media. And this article from Sprout Social goes into the differences between Facebook and Instagram ads.
You can opt to outsource this work as well, although keep in mind you'll be paying two fees: the cost of the ads themselves plus whatever fee the consultant or firm charges.
As for whether paid advertising works, the short answer is this: It can be an extremely effective strategy when done right. Stats show that PPC ads build brand awareness and that when people click on an ad, they'll be more likely to buy than someone who comes into your site via organic search.
How do I go about "reputation management"? (What is that, anyway?)
Reputation management is a fancy way of saying you should keep tabs on what people are saying about your salon on places like Yelp, Google, and other social media sites.
Reputation management also refers to actively soliciting reviews as well, which should be part of your overall digital marketing strategy.
Sedric Bradsher from SmartStyle Hair Salon says, "Don't be afraid to ask your guest to review you online and social media outlets. Make sure you take time out to respond and let them know you appreciate their feedback."
Need help? Check out our article on how to get more reviews.
This still feels like a lot. What should I do first?
It is a lot to digest at first. But remember—you don't need to do everything all at once.
When it comes to developing a beauty salon digital marketing strategy, start with the basics: Build a strong website and get active on a place like Instagram. (We have a guide on Instagram marketing that you can use to get started.)
From there, decide what makes sense for your business. Maybe you work on building an email database and sending out an email once or twice a month. Maybe you take a deeper dive into Facebook ads and try your hand at those.
See what works, see what you enjoy doing, and see what you have time for. You don't need to spend hundreds of hours a month on this. To get going, devote a handful of hours every week.
As Colbi Rease Marks from Hello Sunshine Salon and Spa says, the best thing you can do is keep at it because digital marketing isn’t going anywhere. "A lot of people are hesitant or feel that they can't keep up with everyone and it can cause you to feel burnt out really fast," she says. "Find a style and pace that works for you and kill it!"
We couldn't agree more. Good luck! You got this.